SCHENECTADY — Should police officers live in the city?
The concept of a residency requirement has periodically surfaced during the recently-wrapped series of panel discussions on police reform.
Some panelists contend officers should be required to live in the city, saying it will make the force more culturally responsive and less prone to using force, measures that would ultimately improve community relations and trust.
“I feel like there should be a stronger force of police officers that look like us, and live in the community where we all live,” said Diana Bogran, a workforce development specialist at the SEAT Center on Tuesday.
Just 10 to 15 percent of the 151-officer resides in the city, according to city Police Chief Eric Clifford.
And while most of the officers live outside city limits, the force is similarly white, containing just nine minority members, or 6 percent.
But cops themselves said where they choose to call home has no bearing on their dedication to the community, and the discussion should be more nuanced.
“It’s important to live in the city, but I think it’s even more important to have a relationship inside of the city,” said Sgt. James Plowden, who cited his deep civic engagement as evidence of his community commitment.
Plowden, who lives in the city, said he attends every high school basketball and football game, and is involved in numerous other activities, including coaching youth leagues.
“Any event that happens, I try to be a part of it,” Plowden said. “I’m more focused on officers being a part of the community.”
Others said they need a buffer.
Lt. Michael Dalton recounted making it just 15 steps on a family walk when someone stopped him with a problem.
His family went on without him as he attempted to untangle a police issue.
“There’s a lot of challenges to working and living here that I don’t believe anybody should be mandated to deal with,” Dalton said. “If you try to do that, people will leave.”
Dalton, an 11-year veteran of the department, also recounted incidences in which his family members were threatened and bullied by people he’s arrested.
“Every cop who works in this city has skin in the game,” Dalton said. “Just doing this job in the city, we’re investing a lot.”
Sgt. Adriel Linyear said he understands officers’ concerns.
But at the same, he’s an advocate for city living.
Not only is there the community engagement aspect, but doing so keeps dollars in the neighborhoods.
“I do think it’s beneficial for officers to live in the city, because again, it keeps the resources from the city right here in the city,” Linyear said.
Sgt. William Gannon said he gets the community’s frustrations, which have also surfaced at forums that unfolded throughout the summer outside of the state mandated reform process.
But nationwide recruitment numbers are down, he said, and the constant drumbeat of negative media coverage following the regular stream of Black people killed at the hands of police has had a chilling effect on attracting candidates seeking to persue policing as a career path.
“Right now, people aren’t even interested in being police officers,” Gannon said.
At times when the department has attempted to hire from within in the city, it’s hard to draw a large enough candidate pool, in part due to stringent hiring standards designed to weed out sub-par candidates, Gannon said.
“We have a very challenging process to get hired here,” Gannon said.
The city of Albany does not have a residency requirement for police, nor does Saratoga Springs or Troy.
A review of publicly available data by the USA Today network in June reveals that nationwide, a majority of officers do not live in the cities where they patrol.
On average, 31 percent of police officers were residents of the localities where they worked, according to the newspaper’s review of U.S. Census data for 2006 to 2010 for 745 cities and towns.
The series of five moderated panel discussions ended on Tuesday with a talk between youth organizations and educators.
Like previous forums, nearly all panelists expressed the desire for a department that’s more integrated into the community beyond simply patrolling.
That includes a sustained presence at community events, whether football games or picnics, and outreach beginning at a younger age, participation that should be required from all officers — not just those in the department’s community engagement office.
“If they’re involved more, it can only lead to more positive things,” said Tyrell Outlaw of the SEAT Center.
Other areas of consensus that have emerged at the series of meetings include the need for a more diverse force, boosted foot patrols, the need to rethink how officers respond to mental health calls and a more transparent and independent Civilian Police Review Board.
A final wrap meeting will be held Thursday.
With the meeting phase largely complete, John F. Finn Institute for Public Safety will crunch data and shape public feedback into concrete policy proposals that will be presented to City Hall.
The City Council must approve any reforms by April 1.